Organizations, organisms, super organisms

Being interested in the functioning of organizations as complex systems, from time to time I like to get into the debate about how much organizations are like organisms. Some people have gone so far as to say that organizations *are* organisms, while other people take the approach that there are useful analogies to be made between the two, but that’s as far as it goes. I can certainly say that in my own work I find drawing analogies between the two to be extremely useful, but I’ve always been reluctant to go farther than that- there’s no doubt that organizations and organisms are both complex systems, but I’m not sure if one is really a type of the other.


Having said that, I’m currently reading “The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of  Insect Societies” by Bert Hölldobler and  Edward O. Wilson and I find that I’m quite intrigued by the notion of super organisms and how this concept might be related to human organizations. I was familiar with the concept prior to reading the book, but Hölldobler and Wilson give some excellent detailed examples of the inner workings of a super organism that make the concept much more tangible and concrete. Coming out of the more specific data they present, I can see many interesting similarities between human organizations and social insect super organisms, particularly with respect to the communication systems present in both, so I think I’ll be investigating these similarities a bit more rigorously in the future.

Complex cognitive systems in the information sciences

For my first blog entry I thought I would start by saying how much I’m looking forward to using this blog to review and discuss interesting research findings from the information sciences and systems sciences research communities, and talk a bit about how these findings relate to information flow within organizations. I think it will also be a great place to talk about ongoing CISRI (Cogniva Information Science Research Institute) research projects, and how they might be relevant to this larger discussion. I’m sure my fellow CISRI research bloggers will also have a lot of interesting things to say on these on these topics.


My own background as a researcher is in modelling complex cognitive systems, focusing on the role that information plays in shaping the behaviour of these systems. I find this to be a highly interdisciplinary area of research, with relevant work taking place within information science, cognitive science, biology, sociology, organizational and business theory, complex systems studies and economics, to name a few of the major research areas. In turn, research findings from these areas then flow back into applied research relating to the design and management of information systems, organizational design and management and human-computer interfaces. With both fundamental and applied research opportunities, I think it’s a pretty exciting field to be in- and one that’s only getting more so as technology begins to reflect and implement what information science discovers.